Police Searches: The cops want to search my car, but do I have to let them?

It doesn’t matter if you have been in trouble or you have never been in trouble, when you see those red and blues light up in your rear view mirror, your heart speeds up. Getting pulled over is never a pleasant experience, but it gets more stressful when the officer decides he wants to search your car. Only an attorney should advise you about an individual case, but typically with these scenarios, the cop has a right to conduct a search.

Did you leave it in the road?  In most cases, you have the right to refuse a search, but if you leave the car in the middle of the road and take off running, you lose that right in many states. It works like this: The police go to pull you over; you panic and come to a rolling stop, jump and take off as fast as your feet will go; and you leave the car running in the middle of the road. Now it is a safety hazard and the police do have a right in many states to both move it and search it.

In Plain view: Many states have in plain view laws. If the police pull you over and they see something illegal, in plain view, they have the right to search the car. For example, the cop approaches the car and spots a blunt in the ashtray. This is illegal, so now he or she can search the car for additional evidence. Another example is if you are under 21, get pulled over and he sees a bottle of whiskey in the back seat. You are not old enough to drink; the bottle was in plain view, so now he can search the car.

Drug Dog Hit: If a drug dog hits on your vehicle, most states allow a search. While you have a right to expect privacy in your vehicle, the air around your vehicle is not yours, therefore, you have no expectation of privacy. When a drug dog hits on the car, by detecting the aroma of drugs in the air next to the car, it sort of acts like the “in plain view” law and the cop can now search.

You are on paper: Offenders who are on probation or parole typically sign an agreement of rules. One of those rules usually states that you cannot refuse a search of your home, car or person, and you do not have the right to demand a search warrant. Only an attorney should advise you if it is wise to risk a violation by refusing a search.

Final thoughts: A search of your vehicle takes time. If you are running late for work or need to get home to the kids and none of the above apply you can typically decline a search and be on your way after receiving the ticket for whatever you were pulled over for. A polite attitude is not required by law, but goes a long way when explaining you are declining the search because you have to get somewhere.

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About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.